As we wrap up our month of celebrating science fiction, we're also celebrating the "birth" of a new edition of Star Trek. ST: Discovery premiered last night. One episode aired on network television, and the rest will be available through subscription streaming.
We watched the first episode, and I'm on the fence. It seems to be a love-it-or-meh kind of show. So far, the plot didn't compel me; perhaps future episodes will. One of the selling points for a lot of my acquaintances seems to be the promised inclusion of a gay couple we don't meet in episode 1 (played by Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz, who were also in Rent together).
This is terrific, and I love the fact that they are partners and not some kind of romantic tension played for audience entertainment. Normalizing same-gender love and family is important. But as any good LGBT+ reader or writer of speculative fiction will tell you, this isn't new territory for us. We already write ourselves into our stories.
Science fiction has long been one of my favorite genres. Naturally, we want and expect books about the future of humanity to include all manner of people and relationships, since it reflects both our current reality and our hopes and visions. But it can also be a way to explore beyond the limits of identity markers. How do species on other planets deal with both relationships and reproduction? Are they linked? Do they view gender the same way we do? How do they identify themselves, and what do they do when a member of their society deviates from expectations?
We may be past the stage where we need to represent these concepts by way of metaphors in the storyline. We are not past the stage of pondering new and different ways of thinking.
One of our own Supposed Crimes authors, Jeanne G'Fellers (full disclosure: her novel is one of my new favorites) does a marvelous job of asking these questions in Surrogate. The main character, Etain, does not use identity labels for herself. Her male partner tries to apply a label he understands, and she swiftly corrects him. Her life and loves are a function of her species.
As a person who firmly (and loudly) declares my own identity label, I was surprised to find myself agreeing with her. Normally, I applaud labels as a way to be recognized and not silenced. But I'm approaching from a human perspective; Etain is not. This is a spot-on reaction from her, and in the context of the story, what she says and does are brave acts. (You'll just have to read it to find out why.)
This is what science fiction should do. It should not only raise the question of how other species are different but what that means for us.
What is your favorite science fiction? What questions about humanity have you pondered, and how do you think those might be addressed through speculative fiction?